Sports

Luke Goode stepping into bigger leadership role for Illini basketball

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Luke Goode looked around a group of reporters in the tunnel of the State Farm Center on Wednesday afternoon and dropped a line that was a bit of a joke mixed with the reality of where the roster on the Illinois men’s basketball team currently sits and what it all means for the future.

“I don’t know if you guys know but we don’t have many guys right now,” Goode said, tongue-in-cheek.

So how does this relate to Goode, who played a reserve role last season as a true freshmen? First, and most obviously, Goode will step into a bigger on-court role this season. That much is clear. There are minutes to be had with Da’Monte Williams having exhausted his collegiate eligibility and both Jacob Grandison and austin hutcherson having put their names in the NBA Draft, though both could return to school but have yet to make their decisions. The roster is currently in the early stages of being rebuilt after Williams, Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer exhausted their eligibility; Andre Curbelo (st johns), Brandin Podziemsky, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and Omar Payne (Jacksonville) entering the transfer portal; and Kofi Cockburn declaring for the NBA Draft.

After averaging 8.9 minutes, 2.0 points and 1.8 rebounds in 28 games on an Illini team that won a share of the Big Ten regular season championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Goode is in line for a bigger role this season and brings some positional versatility to the table.

“To be honest it really doesn’t matter to me,” Goode said of where he’ll play. “Wherever coaches need me and wherever they need me to play, what position and what role I need to take is what I’ll do. Whether it’s one, two, three, four or five, it doesn’t matter to me.”

Goode played the four at times last season, most notably in a home win against Michigan State and in a loss to Houston in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But he has some versatility positionally. He could play the three, perhaps his most logical position, but he also has experience as a ball handler in high school. The focus in the offseason, Goode said, is getting to his spots from him and putting the ball on the floor more after being primarily used as a catch-and-shoot option last year.

Playing sparingly last season wasn’t easy but Goode understood the big picture at play and his role on an experienced team.

“I’m a super competitive person so it was kind of tough for me this year just to know I can help out. It is what it is,” Goode said. “It’s kind of what Coach felt was right and I believe in him. The bigger picture is I’ve got to keep grinding and keep getting it and getting better in the gym every single day. Can’t feel content with where I’m at no matter what. I’ve really got to step into that role and lead by example as well, make sure I’m getting those guys in the gym with me and make sure those guys are coming along.”

That leads Goode into the other element of a roster renovation — and prominent voices in the room graduating from or moving on from the program — is a shift in leadership inside the locker room. Goode is a natural leader. He was the high school quarterback at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne (Ind.) and spent last season finding his footing in the leadership category on a veteran team. Now with a younger team—Goode, R.J. Melendez. Coleman Hawkins and Brandon Lieb are the only players who have actually worn an Illini jersey on the team — Goode will have a chance to usher in the next era of Illinois basketball. That means helping a freshman class that ranks No. 9 in the 247 Sports Composite rankings learn the nuances of college basketball.

“I feel like this year I’ll really get to use my leadership skills,” Goode said. “That’s something last year I didn’t really get to do just in my limited minutes, kind of in and out. I’m excited. Growing up in high school I liked to be the voice of the locker room and be the leader, so this year I’m really excited to do that. Coach Underwood is doing a good job this summer so far and the coaches of just kind of instilling that within me and my teammates as well. Just being able to have that role and step into that role, I’m really excited for that.”

Goode said he has been in contact with members of the incoming freshmen class: skyey clark (#29), Ty Rodgers (#51), Jayden Epps (No. 68) and Sencire Harris (No. 68). After spending a year getting a lesson in the Illinois basketball program from Frazier, Williams, Grandison, Cockburn, among others, Goode knows it’s his time to pass along those teachings.

“We’ve been able to have a pretty close relationship just from far away,” Goode said. “Once they get here I’m really excited to teach them the culture and tell them we win here. That’s the biggest thing all summer. I know Coach Fletch is going to do great things in the weight room. Palmer (Johnson), our nutritionist, he’s going to help those guys out and they’re going to make those huge jumps so they can be ready. … We’re going to need those freshmen to step up big.”

Said head coach Brad Underwood: “It’s natural for Luke. You can tell he was a quarterback. He’s got instincts. He’s got feel. I have tried to do that this year, feeling his way through that. It’s sometimes hard for a freshman. He has had a phenomenal spring. He’s gotten bigger. You can see it in his shoulders, his back from him. His game of him has grown from his ball-handling of him and with that will come a confidence that is instinctive for him to lead. He’s got an innate ability to draw people to him. He’s likable. And yet, he’s not afraid to talk a little trash, get into somebody. He knows right from wrong. I’m really excited. I think he’s a guy that is an incredible asset to our locker room.”

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